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National politics

Prison suicide needs to be watched but better than it was in Blair years

The Howard League, an excellent prison reform charity, has been highlighting prison suicide today. Their headline “82 prisoners took their own lives in 2014 “ speaks for itself. Simple, stark, tragic.

It is interesting how this has evolved in the media. You can understand the Guardian going with “Prison suicide rate at highest level since 2007″. The Guardian is nakedly partisan so the spin is to be expected.

The BBC says “Prison suicides in England and Wales at ‘seven-year high’”. Who are they quoting? The Guardian? The original Howard League press release did not make the point explicitly. The BBC is just recycling the Guardian’s line.

What are the real numbers?

You can pull a good history out from here and the latest 2014 figures are in the Howard League press release.

The worst recent 5 years for prison suicide were 1999 (91), 2002 (95), 2003 (95), 2004 (96), 2007 (92). I think we can load those on Tony Blair can’t we?

Average prison suicides 1998 – 2010 inclusive (13 years) = 79

Average prison suicides 2007-2010 inclusive (4 years) =68

Average prison suicides 2011-2014 inclusive (4 years) = 69

On this basis the current Coalition record is better than the Labour record. It is only fractionally worse than the four years immediately preceding the Coalition.

It is perhaps best to look at suicide rate per 1,000 prisoners.

Prison suicide

The suicide rate has ticked up worringly but the rate was higher in 9 out of 13 Labour years when there was more money.